A federal judge has charged three men for their alleged participation in a sophisticated international cell phone fraud scheme.
Defendants Ramon Batista (aka Porfirio), 49, of Orlando, Florida; Edwin Fana, 36, of Miami Gardens, Florida; and 52-year-old Jose Santana (aka Octavio Perez), of Royal Palm Beach, Florida appeared in court this week.
According to an indictment unsealed against them, Batista, Fana, and Santana used the personal information of individuals based in the United States to steal access to and open new cell phone accounts in their names.
They then used customers’ telecommunications identifying information, software, and hardware to reprogram phones under their control to transmit international calls to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and other countries with high calling rates. The costs for those calls were billed to each victim’s cell phone account.
But the scheme didn’t end there. As the Department of Justice explains in a statement:
“Moreover, according to allegations in the indictment, as part of the scheme, the conspirators used the reprogrammed cell phones and additional telecommunications equipment to run illegal call-termination businesses – contracting with calling card companies, Voice over Internet Protocol providers and other telecommunications companies nationwide – in which the defendants routed international calls for payment and then transmitted those calls through the reprogrammed phones without paying for access to the phone companies’ networks. In so doing, they pushed costs from themselves to cell phone customers around the country and those customers’ cell phone providers, which typically absorbed the costs for the fraudulent international calls, according to the indictment.”
The arrest or self-surrender of Batista, Fana, and Santana marks the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation into the case, dubbed “Operation Toll Free.”
Each defendant faces one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; access device fraud; the use, production or possession of modified telecommunications instruments; and the use or possession of hardware or software configured to obtain telecommunications services. They also face additional counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, as handed down to them by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.